SmartLight reports first shipments of computerized x-ray film light box

Company tackles concerns over system's priceExecutives of start-up firm SmartLight are overcoming sizable hurdles to bring to market the company's unique approach to x-ray film viewing via a computer-controlled light box.Industry observers didn't

Company tackles concerns over system's price

Executives of start-up firm SmartLight are overcoming sizable hurdles to bring to market the company's unique approach to x-ray film viewing via a computer-controlled light box.

Industry observers didn't give the former Elscint executives who founded the Israeli company much of a chance when they first displayed SmartLight at the 1995 Radiological Society of North America conference (SCAN 1/31/96). Priced at $25,000 to $45,000, SmartLight is far more expensive than conventional light boxes, and was unveiled in the midst of an extended downturn in medical capital equipment purchasing.

Seventeen months later, SmartLight is still alive and kicking. The company started shipping systems in February, with half of its 15 installations delivered to U.S. customers, according to Robert Sohval, president of SmartLight's U.S. subsidiary in Hackensack, NJ. At least another 10 systems are on back order, Sohval said.

The Food and Drug Administration leads the list of notable institutions to acquire a SmartLight light box. Although careful not to characterize the FDA's purchase as a product endorsement, Sohval said that a system was installed at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health in Rockville, MD. It is used to train federal and state inspectors associated with the FDA's Mammography Quality Standards Act program, Sohval said.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute in New York City, as well as other hospitals and imaging centers, have purchased SmartLights, according to Sohval.

"In some cases, individual physicians are spending their own money, because the hospitals are too slow to react," Sohval said. "In a way, this is their personal workstation. They sit in front of a light box six hours a day. Why not have the best, something that improves productivity and diagnostic confidence while reducing physical fatigue?"

Technically, SmartLight is a radical departure from conventional light box technology. A computer automatically dims ambient light in the reading room and masks the film when it is slapped into place. Light intensity is adjusted according to film density. Film scatter is suppressed to increase image contrast, according to Sohval.

"Demonstrations wow everyone. It takes less than a minute to become a proponent in terms of the clinical value that it offers," he said.

To soften the impact of the system's high price relative to conventional light boxes, SmartLight has assembled an economic model of a typical 250-bed hospital to show how SmartLight light boxes can be cost-justified. For example, the $10,000 annual cost of leasing a four-bank SmartLight 4000 is covered by eliminating the need for two x-ray study retakes per day, according to Sohval.

Sales efforts have also moved forward with a new leasing program that was set up in the first quarter with AT&T Capital Leasing Service in Carrollton, TX.